Coaches raise bar for surprising Mesa, Mtn. Pointe - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Coaches raise bar for surprising Mesa, Mtn. Pointe

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Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 8:35 pm | Updated: 12:57 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The players in Friday night's 5A-I state semifinal football game between Mesa High and Phoenix Mountain Pointe were either just born or toddlers the last time their respective high schools were in a semifinal playoff game.

Their coaches were in Pennsylvania and Georgia, respectively, not knowing or foreseeing at that time where they would be in 2009.

But Mesa High's Kelley Moore and Mountain Pointe's Norris Vaughan are here now and have led their teams to the brink of the state championship game - an achievement few would have thought possible just three months ago.

The reward for the winner on Friday night is obvious: a date against either Chandler or Chandler Hamilton in the title game. But you could also make a case that the winning coach will be a clear-cut choice for coach of the year in Arizona.

Moore, in his third season at Mesa High, had to build off last year's postseason visit (a first-round loss to Tucson Salpointe) during a season in which the Jackrabbits were thrown into the powerhouse Fiesta Region along with five of 5A-I's top programs this decade.

Moore didn't throw up his hands in despair. He rolled up his sleeves and got his players to believe they could compete and reach the playoffs, where anything can happen.

"We couldn't change the region we were in so we told the kids, 'Let's raise the bar,'" Moore said. "If we don't step up we'll get smashed."

Mesa, 8-4 this season, lost to four of the five teams in the Fiesta during the regular season (all of its losses).

"The litmus test for us was to win one region game," Moore said. "We did that. We had tough losses, but the kids didn't crumble from those. They actually got nasty about losing the way we did."

And they got even. During the playoffs, the Jackrabbits have gotten the chance to redeem themselves twice against Fiesta Region opponents, and they've done just that by topping Mesa Red Mountain and Phoenix Brophy in dominating fashion.

"They've showed they have hearts of a champion," Moore said.

Mountain Pointe had much more work to do from a wins-and-losses standpoint than Mesa coming into the season. The Pride won just two games last year (Mesa had won six), and Vaughan was blunt with his opening speech to the 2009 troops.

"We had to change the culture and the attitude," Vaughan said. "We asked who wants to win. Everybody raised their hand. Then we asked are you willing to pay the price. We lost some after that. We are going to change things by playing as a team and not individuals. That's a big part of what's happened."

Vaughan goes about his business with confidence, and it has rubbed off on his players. They've won handily at times, and have had to come from behind in several others - even from 28 points down to Mesa Desert Ridge.

Vaughan is not used to losing. Not in Georgia, where he was a Hall of Fame coach. Not at Wickenburg, where he took over a team that was 3-7 and went 47-5 over the next five seasons. And not at Mountain Pointe, where the Pride are the biggest surprise of the year after going from 2-8 last year (last in their region) to 12-0 and a region champ this fall.

"A lot of people think we have a lot of new players," Vaughan said. "We have one player who wasn't here last year. We actually lost three or four who didn't want to pay the price. It's really been good schemes, good coaches and working hard. Working hard every day."  

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]